UNSUNG is an interview series where we speak to the band members you rarely hear from, in the hard rock and heavy metal bands that you love.
“We wanted to succeed—and get out of Tallahassee,” recalls Brian Marshall about the early days of Creed. Looking back, the bassist speaks on the years that preceded the band’s fame with a sense of pride in their work ethic. Rehearsals with Scott “Flip” Phillips, Scott Stapp, and Mark Tremonti happened as much as four times a week, with the weekends spent playing local gigs full of covers and originals over the course of multiple nightly sets.
“When we would go out and take a smoke break, we would sit down and really talk about what we wanted to accomplish,” he says. “We were always just so driven.” Their efforts paid off and Creed became one of the biggest rock acts in the world. But after two albums including 1999’s RIAA diamond-certified Human Clay and a Billboard Hot 100 chart-topping hit in “With Arms Wide Open,” Marshall parted ways with his bandmates, spending the next couple of years without so much as speaking to them.
As Creed disbanded in 2004, he reconnected and reconciled with two of his friends, leading to a new band named Alter Bridge and their decidedly different sounding album One Day Remains. Some fifteen years later, and with rhythm guitarist Myles Kennedy on vocals, they persevere with the exact same lineup as they began. 2019’s Walk The Sky marks their sixth studio album, and Marshall’s ninth overall with Phillips and Tremonti. With the benefit of hindsight, and more than dozen Billboard charting rock hits with Alter Bridge, he can now reflect on that somewhat tumultuous period of transition between the two groups, as well as the lasting bond between his longtime creative partners.
Who were the bassists that inspired you to pick up the instrument in your youth?
In middle school, I first got introduced to Rush, Led Zeppelin, Iron Maiden and The Who. So those four guys–Steve Harris, Geddy Lee, John Paul Jones, and John Entwistle–inspired me, as far as the rhythm section. I played drums prior to picking up the bass. My dad was a drummer and there was a drum kit at the house that I kind of cut my teeth on. I actually picked up saxophone for a little while and my teacher was kind of a virtuoso. I really looked up to this guy. I asked him what his favorite interest instrument was to play and he said bass guitar. I picked up a Fender Squier not too long after that. There’s moments in your life that are turning points. I took a lesson with that particular guy and he noticed something in my hand. He said, you’re going to be a good bass player. I took that and I ran with it. It’s a musical experience that changed everything.
You’ve been working now with Scott “Flip” Phillips and Mark Tremonti for the better part of two decades, going on three. How has your kind of creative and working dynamic changed between the 1990s and today?
The technology has evolved, so we’re able to log our ideas differently and send them to each other. We’re all kind of spread out across the country. But it hasn’t changed really that much. The dynamic between us is really very smooth. Mark will come up with some ideas, or Myles at this point. Some things work, some things don’t. Nothing’s really solid until the band plays it all together and we’re able to arrange it and talk about it. Some material doesn’t work for Alter Bridge and some material didn’t work for Creed. We’re good filters.
We just know each other so well. I know what Flip is thinking. Him and I have played together so much that I can almost sense two bars ahead what he’s going to do. Same with Mark. He has a particular way of approaching songs live and in the studio. It’s a relationship that we have that’s really unique and effortless, I guess. As a bass player, I’m not one that really likes to stick with the chord progression unless I really have to, if there’s room for me to move and take the bass for a walk without interrupting the song. Sometimes I have to reeled in a little bit.
There’s that Geddy Lee influence.
Exactly. Over the course of time I’ve tried to incorporate more of those Geddy style riffs. I wish I had more time with the music itself. With that first Creed record, we had so much time to develop it. I don’t think there’d be anything that I would change on that album. Ever since then, it’s like, we’re going to do a record, here’s the calendar. I feel like once the album is recorded and we go on tour and start to play live, the songs tend to change for me. I try to stick with it because that’s what the audience knows. But oftentimes, there’s different parts and patterns that I end up playing, because the song evolved for me. I think it’s cooler than how I recorded it. That was a benefit that we had from My Own Prison. We had two, three years of playing out, so they had a lot of time to develop.
After Creed ended, how did Alter Bridge come together?
I wasn’t with Creed for that last record [Weathered, 2001]. I was living north of Orlando, writing and recording in the studio with a band called Head Heavy. Then I got a call from Mark telling me Creed might be breaking up, he’s got material and wants to start a new band. That was another big turning point in my life. I hadn’t spoken with him in a while. It was a time in my life when I was a little bit resentful. Then Mark called and invited me down. That’s when we buried the hatchet, so to speak, really just had hours of conversations and started to hang out a lot more.
One Day Remains was released through Wind-Up. They were Creed’s record label, so there was a relationship there. We thought that we would get the same backing. We didn’t feel like we did and eventually bought ourselves out of that record deal. That was the biggest mistake that the band ever made. It was a big chunk of change. That’s when we were struggling. Tours would happen and then we’d be paying down debt and going home with a lot less. It was hard to survive. We’d put up a substantial amount of money to buy us out of that and a line of credit. We worked our asses off and most of it went back to paying that off. We went through multiple record companies, multiple managers, multiple accountants, and finally put the right team around us. We did finally pay that debt off.
How did you feel about the commercial reception and fan response to One Day Remains?
We felt that it wasn’t received or didn’t get the push that it needed to get. But looking back on it now, I don’t know if that was the case. There may have been some preconceived notions about the guys from Creed, that it’s a spin-off that’ll never last. That was the feeling amongst program directors at radio, whomever out there that would have helped get it more airplay.
We spent a lot of time over in Europe. I can’t tell you how many times we went over there for One Day Remains. We would go to markets and it wasn’t great. When you go from playing arenas to playing clubs, it’s a pill to swallow, but we swallowed it. We’re not Creed; we’re Alter Bridge. We made that decision from the beginning, to put that behind us. It’s one dressing room, one bus. You got 12 guys sharing one bathroom, and four of us looking at each other for the better half of all effing day. The payoff is when we get up there. It’s that two hours that we get to spend on stage. That was exciting and it still is.
Words by Gary Suarez